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Poetry Xtras » "The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe

Poetry Xtras provide brief commentaries, cultural & literary sign posts, or anecdotes about poems featured on Poetry X, written by the poet or a critic expert in the poem.

The bibliographical history of "The Bells" is curious. The subject, and some lines of the original version, having been suggested by the poet's friend, Mrs. Shew, Poe, when he wrote out the first draft of the poem, headed it, "The Bells. By Mrs. M. A. Shew." This draft, now the editor's property, consists of only seventeen lines, and reads thus:

I.

      The bells!—ah the bells!
      The little silver bells!
  How fairy-like a melody there floats
          From their throats—
          From their merry little throats—
          From the silver, tinkling throats
    Of the bells, bells, bells—
            Of the bells!

II.

      The bells!—ah, the bells!
      The heavy iron bells!
  How horrible a monody there floats
          From their throats—
          From their deep-toned throats—
          From their melancholy throats
          How I shudder at the notes
    Of the bells, bells, bells—
            Of the bells!

In the autumn of 1848 Poe added another line to this poem, and sent it to the editor of the 'Union Magazine'. It was not published. So, in the following February, the poet forwarded to the same periodical a much enlarged and altered transcript. Three months having elapsed without publication, another revision of the poem, similar to the current version, was sent, and in the following October was published in the 'Union Magazine'.

—John H. Ingram

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